Craycraft Colloquium: More than Just a Musical Conversation
SAL Colloquium: A Nation Evolves Through Song and Steel
Dr. Craycraft of the College of St. Scholastica Music Department enlightened the audience at last week’s SAL Colloquium about his trip to Tunapuna, Trinidad. The goal of the venture was to explore the culture of Trinidad and the history of the pan, or, as is known in the U.S., the steel drum.
The presentation began with a description of Panorama, a sort of artistic “pilgrimage” for artists like Dr. Craycraft. Panorama is a steel drum competition located in Trinidad, the larger and more populated of the two islands in the Caribbean nation. It is difficult to get to panorama according to Craycraft, because “you have to have an in.” The CSS professor found his in through Birdsong, an educational outlet and steel drum band founded in 1973. Andy Narell, the arranger of the music for Birdsong, is the most famous pan player in the world, according to Dr. Craycraft, which is part of the reason he chose to participate as a member of his band.
Another unique benefit of Birdsong is that their music is arranged in advance, which allowed Craycraft to learn and practice from afar before he went to Trinidad. However, the pans are arranged differently in Trinidad, so Craycraft had to be creative. He laughed and talked about how he drove his wife crazy by assembling cardboard templates and beating them while listening to a recording of the arrangement.
Craycraft brought the artform to life by playing the instrument, showing off its anatomy, and discussing its history as well as sharing a little of Trinidad’s history. The formation of the instrument is an experimental process of beating down a barrel with a hammer until the metal plays the desired notes. Craycraft mentioned the creation of the steel drum “didn’t happen overnight” and added that the instruments are still made by hand. He introduced the audience to the first known steel band recording by the Hell yard Steel Band from 1940 and noted its less-preferred, but still delightful sound.
Craycraft discussed the culture of Trinidad with reference to how the steel drum (pan) plays an integral role. He made the point that Trinidad supports a more colorful and dramatic culture. Everything about it is “louder, brighter, and with the interactions, are more dramatic.” He moved on to retell his delight with the Indian influence in the food of the area. The local cuisine also included shark.
After a brief look into the culture of Trinidad, Craycraft transitioned to speak about calypso. Calypso is a musical tradition, born early in the 20th century that was initially inspired by chantwells at stick fights. Stick fighting is a tradition that is 200 years strong. The chantwells provided social commentary, or as Dr. Craycraft put it, “the newspaper of the day.” The vocal text became very popular, and eventually developed calypso. Craycraft talked about how he integrated calypso into his curriculum by sharing examples of calypsos written by students.
The talk was light and informative. While it went over time, the information drew in the individuals who were in attendance, and as Dr. Nathan Carroll stated in his introduction, “It is through this historical lens, the evolution of song and steel, that one can appreciate the power of the human spirit — that musical expression and creativity are fundamental elements of humanity that can not be stopped, regardless of circumstance.”